Fil-Am lawmaker decides not to seek reelection in Ohio

Posted at 01/19/2012 6:24 PM | Updated as of 01/19/2012 6:24 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Filipino-American community in Metro DC was saddened by news that congressman Steve Austria would not be seeking a third term in November after losing his bailiwick under Ohio state’s new congressional map crafted largely by fellow Republicans, reportedly with the blessing of House Speaker and fellow Ohio lawmaker John Boehner.

“I am not seeking another term to Congress at least for this term,” Austria declared earlier this month. The Middletown Journal said he was facing a potentially contentious primary with Rep. Mike Turner, who faces 2 other rivals in the Republican primary on March 6.

Austria was also critical of Boehner, according to the Politico.com, for supporting Ohio’s redistricting that apparently doomed his re-election bid. The new congressional map merged tracts of Austria’s old 7th district with that of Turner, losing areas that he had represented since he was elected to the state legislature in 1998.

The majority of the new 10th district of Ohio belongs to Turner’s 3rd district. Austria’s district was carved into 3 parts and his residence actually became part of the newly established 10th district, the Middletown Journal said. Boehner himself will get a county that used to be part of Austria’s district.

“I am not going to run for Congress next term as a result of the redistricting map,” the Fil-Am solon said. He was first Filipino-American elected in 2008 and handily won re-election last year, after taking over the old seat of Republican Rep. David Hobson.

The state lost 2 of its 18 seats in Congress due to population loss over the past decade.

“It is of course sad when we lose one of ours from the public realm,” Jon Melegrito said, referring to Austria’s Filipino roots, “not necessarily because he or she lost an election but because of redistricting.”

“Since the redistricting process began, it has been done in secrecy and with closed-door deals. I join my constituents, who are frustrated and disappointed about the new maps forced upon them and the fact that they didn’t have a voice in the process,” Austria complained in a statement.

“This was drawn by a few people behind closed doors,” Austria told the Politico.com. “Why the lines were drawn that way, I don’t know.”

“Had there been a significant Filipino-American population in Austria’s old district, Boehner and his allies would probably have thought twice about their actions. But fearing no pushback or backlash from an outraged constituency, politicians can brazenly resort to these political maneuvers and get away with it,” Melegrito added.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera said the new Ohio congressional map was “typical gerrymandering” and urged Austria to challenge it by running for office. “He is a good and honorable legislator. A great supporter of HR 210, the proposed Filipino Veterans Fairness Act,” he added.

“Sadly, many good legislators are being forced to retire early because of a double-edged sword called redistricting,” Melegrito observed.

Bing Branigin noted that “redistricting is both bad and good for both Republicans and Democrats”.

Meanwhile, Ohio Republicans and Tea Party leaders praised Austria’s decision to give way because it would have diverted resources and attention from the fight to fend off the Democratic challenger. “He’s made the best choice, a graceful exit with integrity and honor,” Hobson was quoted as saying.

Austria is only the 3rd person with Filipino lineage to serve in the US Congress after Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia and former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.

But Austria is the 1st first-generation Fil-Am to be elected in Congress. He was born in Cincinnati to nurse Jean Brockman and Dr. Clement Austria, originally from Tiaong, Quezon. The Austria family was once heralded as “Ohio Family of the Year” and later presented one of 9 “Great American Family” awards by First Lady Nancy Reagan.

He is considered an ally of the Fil-Am community in Congress although he first won national prominence with little backing from the mainstream Fil-Am community.

Branigin noted that Republican Austria has historically voted along party lines in the US House of Representatives. “Unfortunately, he did not vote for the passage of the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation bill,” she rued, referring to the historic measure providing a one-time lump-sum payment for thousands of Filipino World War II veterans both here and in the Philippines.

Austria is a member of the influential House appropriations committee.

He was not even part of the bipartisan caucus of Asian-American lawmakers in Congress, Branigin added.

“That’s why we should encourage more Filipino Americans to get involved in politics by hosting and donating to candidates, registering and voting,” she stressed.

“The latest US census showed there was in increase in the number of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the US, but we are not recognized as a power block because only a handful participate in political exercises,” Branigin averred.

He has signaled he is serving out his 2nd term until December and did not rule out another run for Congress in the future.